By all accounts, there is an abundance of food in America. Rates of obesity are high, across all segments of the population, and Americans have access to and consume more calories than are recommended for good health.
Yet hunger is rampant, with as much as 15% of American households considered food insecure. Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
Until recently, the indicator typically used to identify food need has been the number of people falling below the federal poverty threshold. This is because it is one of the few indicators available at the county level. However, national food insecurity data reveal that roughly 56% of those struggling with hunger actually have incomes above the federal poverty level. Meaning they are missed in those county reports and our national estimates of food insecurity are gross underestimates.
And food insecurity does not affect all states and counties equally. Southern and South Western states have higher than average food insecurity rates. These happen to be places where nutrition-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, also cluster. Think that's a coincidence? One of the cruel ironies of food insecurity is that the foods most readily available to those who struggle to afford it are the same low-quliaty, high-calorie, sugar and fat laden foods that are associated with poor health. So food insecurity is a double whammy.
Luckily if you are one of those household who experiences food insecurity, there are resources available. And if you're just interested in learning more about it, there are resources for that too. Visit the Feeding America website to learn more about the your neighbors struggling with hunger and the food banks that serve them.